Invasion essentials: Does secondary chemistry plasticity contribute to the invasiveness of Thymus vulgaris L.?

J. A. Nielsen, P. A. Whigham, R. D. Frew, R. M. Callaway, K. J.M. Dickinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Increasing our understanding of spatial patterns of plant secondary chemistry variation may help us understand the mechanisms that underlie plant invasions involving species which exhibit chemical phenotypic variation. We analysed qualitative and quantitative variation in the essential oil terpenes produced by Thymus vulgaris L. (thyme) plants inside and at the edge of thyme-invaded plant communities on north- and south-facing slopes at ten sites across Central Otago, New Zealand. We tested the hypotheses that (1) there are foliar terpene composition quantitative and qualitative differences between the inside and edge of thyme-invaded communities and that these differences vary between north- and south-facing slopes and (2) that environmental variables affect the quantity and quality of thyme essential oil composition. Terpene concentrations were determined using ethanol extraction and GC FID/MS. Environmental data were collected from inside, at the edge and outside of thyme stands. We used multivariate statistical analysis to test differences in foliar terpene composition and linear modelling to investigate the effects of environmental variables on terpene composition. We found no evidence of a link between aspect- and invasion edge-related patterns of variation of thyme's essential oil chemistry. Site-related differences for aspect and position in thyme stands indicated that thyme's terpene production may be modulated by environmental factors such as soil moisture, clay, carbon, silt, sand, colloid, N and NH4 +. The role of thyme's novel chemistry in the processes that underlie the spatial patterns of thyme's successful invasion is modulated by environmental factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-27
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Central Otago
  • Essential oils
  • Exotic plant invasion
  • Terpenes
  • Thymus vulgaris


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